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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail and Food Service Sales Post Record Decline
by Tom Moeller  May 15, 2020

• Consumers pull back as coronavirus takes hold.

• Spending cutbacks are broad-based.

Social distancing, store closings and travel restrictions took their toll on consumer spending last month. Total retail sales, including food service establishments, fell a record 16.4% (-21.6% y/y) during April after weakening 8.3% in March and easing 0.4% in February. An 11.5% decline had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Retail sales excluding motor vehicles & parts were off 17.2% (-18.8% y/y) after falling 4.0%. An 8.3% decline had been anticipated.

Retail sales excluding food service establishments fell a record 15.1% last month (-17.8% y/y) after weakening 5.3% in March. Sales of motor vehicle & parts dealerships fell 12.4% (-32.9% y/y) as unit sales of motor vehicles weakened by one-quarter m/m and nearly one-half y/y. Gasoline & service station sales fell 28.8% (-42.8% y/y) as prices declined and driving was curtailed by stay-at-home restrictions.

Apparel & accessory store sales plummeted 78.8% (-89.3% y/y), down for the fourth straight month. Electronics & appliance store sales were off 60.6% (-64.8% y/y), the third straight monthly fall. Sales at furniture & home furnishings stores weakened 58.7% (-66.5% y/y) after falling 21.1% in March. Sporting goods, hobby, book & music store sales fell 38.0% and by nearly one-half y/y.

As consumers turned to ordering from home, sales of nonstore retailers rose 8.4% (21.6% y/y) after improving 4.9% in March. General merchandise stores, however, realized a 20.8% decline (-14.9% y/y). Building materials & garden store sales fell 3.5% (+0.4% y/y), the third straight monthly decline.

Food & beverage store sales declined 13.1% (+12.0% y/y) after rising 26.9% in March. Another nondiscretionary category, health & personal care product sales, weakened 15.2% (-10.4% y/y) after rising 5.0%.

Outside of the goods spending categories, restaurant and bar sales declined 29.5% (-48.7% y/y) with widespread closures of dining establishments.

The retail sales data can be found in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics forecast is in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (% chg) Apr Mar Feb Apr Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -16.4 -8.3 -0.4 -21.6 3.5 4.8 4.6
  Excluding Autos -17.2 -4.0 -0.5 -18.8 3.4 5.5 5.0
Retail Sales -15.1 -5.3 -0.5 -17.8 3.4 4.6 4.5
 Retail Less Autos -15.7 0.7 -0.5 -13.4 3.2 5.3 4.8
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -12.4 -25.7 -0.4 -32.9 4.0 2.3 3.4
  Food & Beverage Stores -13.1 26.9 -0.1 12.0 3.0 4.0 4.2
  Gasoline Service Stations -28.8 -16.5 -2.9 -42.8 0.3 12.6 8.9
Food Service & Drinking Places -29.5 -29.7 -0.3 -48.7 4.4 6.3 5.9
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